Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Kismet! Or Is It?

My favorite is when you're rushing around in the morning, your entire goal to just not be naked. You've no style or fashion concerns on your mind whatever. Without your knowledge, the outfit fairy twanks her magic twanger  BOOM   You look down and you're wearing a great new look! Of course, i've spent enough time and effort obsessing about style in general, and my own wardrobe in particular, to realize it's nothing to do with kismet. It is everything to do with planning planning planning.

But it sure feels magical when it happens! How paradoxical is it that achieving effortlessness does indeed require a commitment to a significant amount of effort? This ensemble goes to another topic that's been on my mind quite a bit recently, especially since I won two books by Kendall Farr in a You Look Fab contest. The package arrived about 3-4 weeks ago and i have been reading both books every single day since. Ms. Farr is full of incredibly useful ideas and inspiration, and her writing style and wit make taking it all in a breeze. From my ego's standpoint, it doesn't hurt that she espouses many ideas which i've also found to be integral to personal style.

One of these concepts is the importance of dressing to flatter your individual physical person. Staying true to this principle has a many positive effects. For one, you'll always look great! More to the point to this look, you will severely limit the colors and shapes in your wardrobe. I'll admit that many many fashionable people will be aghast at my last sentence - we want options, variety, up to date, new new new! But there are those among us who feel overwhelmed by the vast variety of offerings available, and who will be happy to have an easy way to cut through the fluff and get straight to the good stuff. Even better, choosing only items that flatter your person naturally creates an individual color and shape palette wherein the great bulk of clothing works together effortlessly. How does this come about?

Let's take color as an example. Three characteristics determine whether or not colors 'go' or can combine pleasingly to the eye. These are temperature (warm vs. cool), saturation, and similarity of tint-shade-tone.*** Warm colors 'go' with warm and cool with cool. Colors with a similar degree of saturation (strong or weak colors) 'go' together. And colors with a similar degree of tint, tone, OR shade go together. In the jacket and blouse i'm wearing here, all of the colors are warm, they are all fairly saturated, and they are all tones (overwashed with grey).  True pastels all go together because they are all cool to neutral, are very lightly saturated or 'weak', and are all tints (the base color is heavily diluted with white). Follow the embedded links for definitions and examples of these terms, or search the web for more information. If you take the time to train your eye to recognize these color characteristics, finding and combining your colors will suddenly make complete sense.

As it happens, temperature, saturation, and tint-tone-shade also determine which colors look most flattering on you.  Therefore, sticking to your best colors will result in a closet which mixes very well. The same principle goes for shapes. Adhering slavishly to these principles allowed me to toss on two items bought six years apart, from different stores and different designers, and look put together and even current.

It's easy to take a look at this approach to wardrobe building and wonder, "Where's the room for ME?!?!?" It sounds terrifically restrictive - but it's not. Subtle variations of shape and silhouette, details, pattern, echoes of various times and places all offer tremendous opportunity for expression as well as contributing so much to your personal style. It took me about five minutes to find these variations on a theme. Each of these coats has a defined waist and shoulder, a collar, and is a strong, neutral-to-cool red.

Even with these narrow guidelines i could find coats ranging from simple and clean-lined, through military-style, to ruffles and bows, and one straight-out bombshell trench. I hope this demonstrates that even within some pretty strict guidelines a vast amount of individual expression is possible.

Eight Red Coats

Do any of you have strict, 'do or die' guidelines you follow when choosing new items for your wardrobe? Or do you take a more inclusive, spontaneous approach to filling your closet?

*** temperature: warm colors tend to have yellow or red undertones, cool colors tend to have blue or green undertones. At the same time there are cool yellows and warm blues (turquoise is a warm blue)

saturation: the amount or strength of the 'color' or hue in a color. the red coats are all very saturated, there is a ton of 'red' in the color. My sandals are at the 'weak' end of the saturation spectrum - are they oyster, or bone, or cream, or......? The 'color' is just not saturated enough to really tell!

tints, tones, shades: these are all 'pure' hues or colors with something added.  tints are color with white added, shades are pure hues with black added, tones are color with grey added. This illustration is very helpful.


  1. Totally fab and interesting outfit! You look great in it. Very well done. Enjoyed the post and information.

  2. Wonderful article, Steph! And your outfit goes along so well with the tutorial, so we feel like we can do it too. I have understood "temperature" for a long time, but had not given enough thought to saturation and tint/tone/shade. Although a look into my closet would reveal that I've naturally gravitated toward muted colors, and no brights near my face, ever.

    Well, my dear, you have given me some homework, the fun kind!

    Happy thanksgiving to you and your family.

  3. I think I'm fairly strict in my choices. At some point I think I realized that I'd rather look good than have a large array of colors and styles in my wardrobe.

    Learning about saturation has been a key thing for me. I had my "colors done" many years ago, so I knew that warm colors work best for me. But even more important is the level of saturation-- I need a lot of depth in my colors.

    One of my typical casual outfits is a v-neck sweater layered over a top or tank. I've gotten to the point where I can pull out any sweater and any top from my closet, and they will go together.

    I'm also very strict about things like necklines, and the length of my tops. I think I need to be more disciplined about sleeve length.

    I've even noticed that when the outfit is flattering, my hair looks better, i.e., frizzy hair doesn't look so messy. I think it's a matter of the whole look coming together.

  4. I love that blouse and jacket together! Of course, I might like either as much with anything else, too, as you suggest about your wardrobe.

    I like your approach to being able to grab things and put together a satisfying outfit without having to go to a purely mix 'n' match capsule wardrobe.

    For me, I find the colors I can wear most successfully depend on the quality of the light: weather, season. On some days, I think I must have been crazy to keep something but on other days, it looks great.

    Maria Killiam has a wonderful blog on color.
    I first read about this idea in depth on her blog. She was influenced by the work of Donald Kaufman. I bought his book Color and Light. I have to say, though, the concept doesn't come across in a book of photographs of interiors.
    Still, the ideas do validate what I can see with my own eyes.

    In certain stores, I have to remind myself not to leap upon some blue or green item because it's the store lighting that makes it so dazzling. Once outside, it's just ordinary again.

  5. That blouse is really lovely.

    I've tended to be acquisitive but more for experimentation purposes than simply to fill a void in my closet. Lately I've begun to pare down somewhat, understanding better now what works for me, and becoming more selective about my purchases. I still experiment on occasion, but always with thrift-shop stuff so that if I make a bad mistake it's not also a costly one.

    So I do have a couple of guidelines: warm tones, soft textiles, high natural-fibre content, and (with the exception of a basic turtleneck for warmth) lower necklines.

    I still struggle with the concept of shape; I haven't quite landed on what shapes work for my body, particularly in the trouser area.

  6. I love your blog in general and this one artilcle in particular. Great message. I find I have a wardrobe that has mostly my colors but I still struggle with shapes that fit my body. I get tired of the same styles together. Often what I want to wear is not what looks good on me so I try to come up with a version of a 'look' that looks good on me. Im back to sewing again so maybe this will help me create what I exactly need.

  7. Oh I forgot to say that I am a short waisted big busted inverted triangle with medium height 5'4". A very difficult shape to dress.

  8. First, thank you all for your encouraging comments! You're making me believe that there are real people out there who want to have this kind of technical information!

    Thank you Anon!

    Hi Patti! yes, temp gets a fair amount of play, which is great because it's very important. over time i've noticed that 'the other two' don't get mentioned much at all, and they are also important. You have a great color sense, you'll be working these concepts in no time!

    Hi Vildy! "I like your approach to being able to grab things and put together a satisfying outfit without having to go to a purely mix 'n' match capsule wardrobe." Yes! that's it! what i've been trying to get across, but you put it so well - thank you!

    and your thoughts on lighting are bang-on. In junior high i had a pair of jeans which were a dark ink blue - except under the street lights of the day, where they turned a wonderful flourescent violet! Very important to remember when shopping - go outdoors!

    "Still, the ideas do validate what I can see with my own eyes." The best way of all to decide if ideas are worth investigating and working with.

    Hullo P! "...warm tones, soft textiles, high natural-fibre content, and ... lower necklines..." Having seen your closet (hee!) i can say that even these few guidelines can provide a good amount of cohesion to a wardrobe. Very good! (hug sadie please)

    Hi Adrienne! Welcome! taking a gander at your blog, i'd say you've got a fantastic eye for color! and you wear it quite well!

    urgghh.....shapes are hard in general, if you have an unusual body type it can be torture! Your interest in sewing is going to really help you - in Kendall Farr's Pocket Stylist, she talks about dressing Emme for an ad campaign, the first involving a plus size model.

    Ms. Farr could find NOTHING modern or appropriate in the stores. She ended up getting a few Vogue Patterns, some great fabric and notions, and taking it all to a tailor. Emme's entire wardrobe was not just altered - it was created from scratch!

    if you don't know about http://sewing.patternreview.com/
    go there right away! the search function ain't that great, but stick with it. The amount of info is world-changing!

    Happy Saturday All! steph

    1. Did you know that Kendall Farr has recently launched an e-commerce Web site that only shows you the clothing that is appropriate for your shape and style? Check it out at www.personalshopping.com

  9. Thanks for you kind comments. I am aware of that web site and I agree it is so helpful. I joined American Sewing Guild recently so I can get some sewing buddies. So hopefully Ill get myself into the sewing zone...